Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Drome


Grignan, Drome Provencale.

New territory for us.  Tempted to shoot straight across to Bedoin in Provence, but the Drome region is in between and new to us.  Walked into Grignan from the campsite.  The  site is shaded by pine and holm oak trees, overlooking a field of lavender.  Very Provencale.  Grignan was the home of the Duc of Provence and beloved of the duchess, Marie Sevigne who was famous for writing copious letters to her daughter about her beloved home in Grignan, an ancient castle perched high above the town, where the rest of the peasants lived!  Vive la revolution!  A beautiful but empty, slightly sterile village dating back to the 15th century.  Beautifully restored but a bit of a showcase and very unreal.
The following day we cycled to Taulignan, another beautiful walled town with ancient ramparts, and on to Poet Laval, a Donjon dating back to the Chevalier Hospitaliers of the 14th century.  Presumably we got the word "dungeon" from the French, Donjon, a fortified building.  Esteemed as one of the most handsome villages in France.  A superbly restored building.  From there we cycled back on the Drome par Velo route to Grignan, a quiet and scenic route designated for cyclists.  40 odd miles in total, at a brisk pace because the terrain has sweeping rather than steep hills.  A pretty area with Proven├žal old towns dotted all over the wooded landscape.
We would have had a swim but Ian forgot his budgie smugglers (tight trunks beloved of he French) and was not allowed into the pool. This is true, his  swimming shorts are not "hygienic" and are regarded as casual shorts!
Only the French would consider discreet shorts to be more offensive than middle-aged men wearing something slightly less tight than thongs, with large tummies hanging over the top.  I know which I'd prefer!  Vive la Difference!

After another night in Grignan area, we moved on to Buis les Barronies, about thirty miles southeast.  But first we called in at Nyons, which we had read up on as an interesting place to visit on a rare day out of the saddle.  Nyons is quite a busy town, with lots of places of interest to visit, caves du vin, museums, old and new olive mills and the last remaining "scourtinerie" in France.  We sought this out, well it is a bit of culture, involves a handicraft and is a dying art- right up my street!  We learnt that a "scourtin" is a beret shaped mat made from coarse, thick coconut fibre woven into dense bowl-shaped mats and used in the production of olive oil, though not any more!  The scourtins are filled with olives, once they've been soaked in brine and pricked all over with a roller covered in sharp points. Then they are stacked up on top of each other in a scourtin tower and then crushed by a press, to release the oil.  Now this is done by machines on a far greater scale, and the scourtins are now sold to crazy, curious women like me!  The woman who operated the machines to make the scourtins was a delight, and spoke some English, enough to help me make sense of what she was doing.  She explained that she had been making these for 25years, and that she operated the machines that her great grandfather used, and the machine was dated 1882.  One machine loaded up the two mats in a simple weft, and then the other more intricate machine was loaded with robust needles, which were pushed mechanically to create the warp, and then were ditched into a bucket.  A very simple machine, beautifully designed and engineered, to perform a fairly simple task.  But because of the nature of the materials involved, the rough thick fibres and the densely packed end product, the machines must have taken some of the back-breaking, hand-wrecking work involved.  Even so, the weaver showed us how rough her hands had been made, but it was clearly a skill she loved.  She took great pride in setting up the machines, and the excitement it produced in observers, like me.  Even Ian was interested!  She made placemats, rugs and larger floor coverings, baskets and bowls.  I bought a traditional scourtin, like the one I'd seen her weave for 22euros.  Both of us forgot our cameras, so we'll have to go back another time.  Right at the other end of town, we were told by the tourist info that we could find a museum about olive production, past and present, so we could learn more about the use of the scourtins, so off we went.  The Museum turned out to be a very chic wine and olive producer and shop, which had a room set aside for old olive mill artefacts, olive jars, presses, scourtins, much larger than mine, and pictures off how they were used, as described earlier.  We sat in the cool of the "theatre", listening to a film in French of the current method of olive oil production, full of complimentary, if overblown, language about the special quality of the land and climate, which produces this appellation controlle wine and oil.  To be fair they are quite right to shout about it, because it is a special blend of sun and geography around here!
Culture experienced, we set off for Buis les Baronnies in Drome Proven├žal.  Campsite ok.  Inexpensive but not very shady.

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